The Consumer Culture
Upper-Intermediate to Advanced level
To provide Ss with an opportunity for freer speaking practice on the topic of materialism and consumerism--as a consequence of today's global capitalist economy.
To provide Ss with an opportunity to practice their detailed listening skills, listening for specific information on the subject of 'online shopping' and companies' marketing strategies/campaigns.
Procedure (120-134 minutes)
Write on the WB the following quote from Will Rogers (American actor): “Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like.” Elicit from the WC what this quote means to them. "What does Rogers mean with this quote? What commentary is he making on modern society?" Write on the WB two more quotes. Elicit from the WC what kind of commentary these quotes are making on consumerism/materialism. --“You say, 'If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.' You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.” (Charles Spurgeon, preacher in the 1800's) --“What consumerism really is, at its worst is getting people to buy things that don't actually improve their lives.” (Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO) Focus on the second quote and the person who said it. "Is it hypocritical (or just a form of self-awareness/self-consciousness) that the CEO of Amazon would comment on consumerism as a lack of improving people's lives?" Elicit from the WC their thoughts and response. Write on the WB MATERIALISM and CONSUMERISM. Elicit from the WC the differences between these two words. Highlight the fact that the first quote references 'materialism' and the second quote references 'consumerism.' [T Note: MATERIALISM is an individual (or societal) concern/focus over material possessions and wealth; CONSUMERISM is the action or habit of buying and acquiring goods/materials; not all consumers are materialistic; all materialists are consumers by the very nature of their obsessions/focus]
Divide the WC into groups and distribute the HO with questions related to materialism ('Buy, Buy, Buy; Sell, Sell, Sell'). Instruct the groups to discuss 5 of the 7 questions in the HO. Following GW discussion, bring the WC together for FB. Focus on Questions 2-4 from the HO. Elicit from the WC their spending habits and relationship with consumerism. "Do you consider yourself materialistic or not, based on your spending habits?" Transition to the pre-lesson reading task (the 'Black Friday' article) and discuss the post-reading questions. Elicit from the WC their emotional response to this 'spending habit.' "Black Friday originated in America. What do you think this says about such a society that supports and thrives on literally violent consumerism?" [T Note: the term 'Black Friday' originates from 1) the gold market crash of 1869; 2) then it referred to the congestion (pollution) and chaos caused by too many holiday shoppers in one space; 3) and now it refers to companies becoming profitable (going from losing money, i.e. their account books being 'in the red,' to earning big profits, i.e. their account books being 'in the black')]
Transition to the subject of 'online shopping.' "The 2014 'Black Friday,' as described in the article, isn't experienced as violentally today as it was in the past because of how much 'online shopping' (and big online bargains during the holiday shopping season) has replaced physical shopping." Elicit from the WC how the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically, has affected our shopping behaviors and habits [referring to online shopping]. "Have our spending habits changed significantly as a result of this pandemic? How so?" Inform the WC that we are going to watch a video on online shopping and how it has affected consumerism, consumeristic behaviors, and the world/the environment in general. "Before we watch, I want to personally ask you two questions that the video presents." 1) "What is the last thing you bought online?" 2) "Have you ever bought anything that you ended up not using?" Distribute the while-listening comprehension questions ('The Atlantic While Listening Qs' HO) and project the video [6:18]. Following a viewing, bring the WC to discuss and answer the HO questions together. Focus on the final question: "What are some responses (some social movements) to our ever-growing trash problems resulting from consumerism?". Elicit from the WC their thoughts and opinions on some of these social movements. Do they support them? Do they consider them an over-exaggeration or an over-reaction? Etc.
IF TIME: Divide the WC into groups and distribute the HO on 'Consumerism Questions.' Following GW discussion, bring the WC together for FB. Focus on Question 5: "Has consumerism made our society better or worse?" "Whether you consider consumerism with positive or negative associations, companies like to market their products as if they affect society in a positive way." Transiton to the pre-lesson listening task ('The Secret Behind Coca-Cola Marketing Strategy'). Go through the HO comprehension Q's with the WC. Following discussion, elicit from the WC their thoughts. "What abstract, or concrete concept, do you associate Coca-Cola with? For you, has Coca-Cola been successful in their marketing techniques and strategies?" Inform the WC that you want to show them two advertisements for the holiday season this year . "The first one is from Coca-Cola and the second advertisment is from the British department store known as John Lewis." Instruct the WC to observe what 'social message' or 'abstract concept' is being sold in these advertisements. "Think about this year, the pandemic, and what the world and the world economy have been experiencing. How does Coca-Cola and John Lewis respond to 2020?" Coca-Cola Advert: 2:29 John Lewis Advert: 2:00 Following a viewing of both advertisments, bring the WC together for FB and discussion.
Inform the WC that they are going to watch one more video--an artist's conception of consumerism and materialism. "The name of this video is 'Happiness' by Steve Cutts." Instruct the Ss, while watching, to observe all of the different ways that the abstract concept of 'happiness' is sold to the main character. "What represents 'happiness' in this world? And by the end of this video, does the main character achieve his purpose--does he find happiness?" [T NOTE: Food, entertainment, electronics (i.e. plasma tv), fast sports car, alcohol, pills/medicine, money] Following a viewing of the film, divide the WC into groups to share what they observed with their partner. "Discuss with your partner the message of the film. The film ends with everyone becoming stuck in a 'mouse trap'--working at an office. What is the artist, Steve Cutts, saying about materialism and consumerism, and a society that embraces both?" Following GW discussion, bring the WC together for FB. Elicit from the WC why they think Cutts chose to depict our world (and our society) as a bunch of rats. "Have you heard the term 'rat race'? What does that mean?"
Introduce and describe the details of the HW assignment to the WC. --A mock commercial. It can be like an infomercial, with you and your partner talking about and selling your product. Elict from the Ss what an INFOMERCIAL is, if they don't already know. --Refer back to the 'Buy, Buy; Sell, Sell' HO. Your mock product should be an answer to Question 3 (a material good that could make us a better person and improve the world). --6 minutes in total. 3 minutes/person. --The infomercial should talk about: What the product is; what it does (its specifications/details and cost). How it will 'improve' the owner. Why it is better than other 2020 products; why I should purchase it over other products.